Many smaller agency owners are so wrapped up in day-to-day operations, new business pursuit, and financial issues, that they tend to place human resources issues on the “I’ll get to it soon” pile. Employees are left to plod along with little guidance or interest in business goals their employers have yet to share. Improving management-employee communications can greatly increase engagement and productivity.
Why Coaching Matters
Poor communications between employers and employees is a key reason smaller businesses fail to retain valuable people. Employees want to contribute to business success, work toward defined objectives, and be recognized for their achievements and contributions. While some employee outreach and mentoring occurs at the supervisory level, in smaller firms, agency principals may need to be the human resources “coaches” to their employees.
One Second Wind member agency does something that we like very much. In this 12-person agency, the two principals have a monthly bring-your-own-coffee (BYOC) meeting with each employee. This is not a formal review, but rather a casual conversation in which the agency principals sit down with the employee to discuss the individual’s performance and challenges during the past month.
The meetings follow a simple format, discussing the employee’s current projects, thanking them for their contributions, covering upcoming projects, and ending with general discussion. The principals claim these individual meetings have a dual purpose—to head off potential problems and give each employee a vision of how to move forward.
These meetings also serve a third purpose: improving overall agency performance. One of the major roadblocks to agency growth is communication breakdown, from employees who don’t “play well” together, to poorly focused project directions/objectives, to the “all hell breaks loose” general disorganization when there are too many projects at one time. Worst of all is the failure of agency managers to communicate big-picture goals to employees.
The employee BYOC meeting represents a relaxed-but-proactive, back-to-basics approach to “resetting” your agency for high performance. This type of regular communication helps agency principals ensure that each employee understands and is working toward overall agency goals. Dealing early on with nitpicky little problems can help to eliminate those monster problems that always seem to hit during peak workload times. What seems trivial or minor to agency owners may be an enormous concern or aggravation to the employee, and easily fixed if addressed promptly.
Gaining Employee Input
In addition, consider spending a moment or two on “positive employee recommendations”—What did we do this month that we might have done better? What project did you really enjoy? What would you have added to that project in a perfect world? You might not get a lot of response during the first few meetings, but you’ll get each employee thinking about “what else can we add, and what can we do to make this good program a great one?”
Try it out. It won’t cost you anything but your time… and it might save you (or make you) a bundle in the future.